How I salvaged a Hoppy Kettle Sour

Last summer I tried my first hop forward sour beer, Funky Gold Amarillo by Prairie Artisan Ales. To be honest, I was blown away. It was moderately sour, quite clean with lots of Amarillo aroma and flavor. It was simple, but at the same time it had a good amount of complexity. It was intriguing, and I really wanted to re-create this style for myself at some point. Little did I know at the time, this style would give me far more trouble than any other, testing my patience and confidence on numerous occasions. I’ve had a handful of hoppy sours from commercial breweries since, but that beer still stands out for me, as does Funky Gold Mosaic. A very similar beer but with mosaic hops instead of Amarillo, obviously.

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Image sourced from http://www.prairieales.com/beer/funky-gold-amarillo/

 

Now when I say “salvaged” in the title, I mean it a little loosely. This post is mostly about my attempts, and subsequent failures trying to produce a super hoppy, sour beer. Though I did end up with a drinkable sour that was indeed hoppy, it did not proceed how I expected.

I’ve read countless blogs regarding fast souring with Lacto, and I’ve attempted this style previously, albeit with minimal success. After much reading on Milk the Funk, The Mad Fermentationist , and Ales of the Riverwards, not to mention American Sour Beers by Tonsmeire, I decided kettle souring was best suited to my current set up.

It seemed as though home brewers everywhere are turning these styles around in less than two weeks. But there are numerous options available to build your Lacto culture. I came across this post from Derek Springer of Five Blades Brewing. It’s a great step by step instructional for a Lacto starter.

Next I had to decide what type of Lacto I wanted to sour with, there were a few options I was interested in. There are other options of course, yogurt, sauerkraut, and so on, but these were the three I was most comfortable with at the time.

  • Pure strain – Such as L.Brevis
  • Probiotic Capsules – L.Plantarum
  • Grain

 

Lactobacillusbrevis
Lactobacillus Brevis. Image sourced from here

 

After deciding which type of Lacto I wanted to use, I had to settle on a yeast strain to ferment the wort with once it had reached a ph level I was happy with. If you’ve had a kettle sour, or any fast soured beer for that matter, you know that while they are quite tasty, they are not overly complex like a Flanders. This is one of the reasons why Berliner Weisse is traditionally served with raspberry or woodruff-flavored syrup, they also help to balance sourness. I thought the use of a Brett strain may add a little complexity, and luckily a friend had just ordered a vial of White Labs Brett Brux Trois Vrai for me. This is not a strain I had used before, but I felt it would be well suited for this style. Unfortunately this wasn’t the case, but more on that a little later.

Now I turned my attention to hop choices. For a little while I’ve been wanting to use Mosaic and Vic Secret together. They’re both very expressive and tasty on their own. I find Mosaic to be a little dank with lots of fruit, and tropical character. Vic Secret seems to be tropical as well, mainly pineapple with some pine character. So I was fairly confident these two would work well together, especially playing off some sourness and a restrained malt bill.

Speaking of malt bill, I wasn’t quite sure exactly what I was going to build. Prairie doesn’t list the grain they use on their site as many other breweries do, not that I was looking to clone Funky Gold, but it would have been great to know where to start. I also didn’t take any tasting notes at the time I had that particular beer, unfortunately. I do remember it being a light orange hue, and I don’t recall much contribution from the grain flavor wise. It was almost entirely the sourness, and delicious hops that intrigued me. With this all in mind, I tried to keep things relatively simple. Pilsner as the base, some Vienna, and Munich for a little biscuit, and bread respectively. Wheat malt for added mouth feel as I was planning on mashing quite low, and finally acid malt for water chemistry adjustment.

The very last variable I had to decide on was batch size. I brew many different amounts based on my needs. I tend to brew hop forward styles in four gallon batches because I want to get through those kegs before the hop character fades significantly. This time around I thought about brewing more and taking some of the wort for a fruit addition, as I didn’t want to go the syrup route I mentioned earlier. I thought a pineapple sour sounded good for the upcoming summer weather, and I thought it would go well with the tropical character of the hops I had chosen. Keeping this in mind I decided to brew 6.5 gallons, 4 gallons for the hoppy sour with heavy dry hopping, and the other 2.5 gallons would receive chunks of pineapple at a rate of 1.25lb/gal.

With all of that decided, I was eager to get my fast sour brew into a keg, so I got a starter going right away with Lacto Brevis. I had assumed that I would have a starter ready to go in less than a week, wort soured in a few days, and the batch completed within three weeks. I matched fermentation temperature to the strain, but even after a week the ph had not dropped below 3.8.

My next attempt involved using L.Plantarum, a probiotic, which was recommended by a friend after reading this post by Ed Coffey on brewing a Gose. I decided to use four capsules instead of the three he used, simply because of my issues in the past. Again this starter stalled, only reaching a ph of 3.9. So I tried again with a pure strain of Lacto Brevis, and I got the starter to 4.0. At this point the frustration was setting in, so I decided to go the grain route. First with 2-row, then acid malt, then a mix of those two with three L.Plantarum capsules. Fail, fail, and fail. None of them got below 3.8.

As a last ditch effort, I attempted one more starter with grain only, and after a week it had still only dropped to 3.8. At this point I decided to just walk away for a little while, I had family coming to visit, plus I wasn’t making any progress. I decided to leave the starter at around 105F for two full weeks. When my visitors left I thought about just dumping the starter, but my curiosity got the better of me. I tested the ph, and to my surprise it was down to 3.58, so the next day I mashed in, and collected my wort. I then brought the wort temp up to 180F to kill any potential bugs, chilled to 120F, and pitched the starter. I poured in 1L of seltzer water to purge the kettle (hopefully) of oxygen. Making some effort to purge the oxygen in your fermenting vessel is important to minimize butyric acid from being produced. I then covered the lid with saran wrap, placed the lid on, and watched the temperature closely. Every time it dropped below 90F I turned the stove burner on low-medium heat, and brought it back up to 120F. I repeated this for an entire week, and checked the ph at 36 hours, then about every 12 hours for a few days.

I know this was less than an ideal method, but I thought if the starter was below 3.8 it was worth a shot. Unfortunately the wort never got below 4.2, despite giving it a head start down to 4.8 with my mash adjustment. Then I had a full batch of non sour wort and I wasn’t sure if I should proceed with the boil, or cut my losses and dump the entire thing. By now I had spent a lot of time attempting to build starters and sour my wort. In the end, I decided to use all of the lactic acid I had left, 120ml, and it got the wort ph down to 3.5. From here I did a 60 minute boil, added a good amount of hops to steep and again when I started to chill.

 

Recipe Targets: 6.5 gallons, OG 1.050, FG 1.011, SRM 4.5, IBUs 17, ABV 5.2%

Grain:

0.15 kg               Rice Hulls (0.0 SRM)                    2.7 %         
3.50 kg               Pilsner (2 Row) Bel (2.0 SRM)           62.0 %        
0.50 kg               Munich Malt (9.0 SRM)                   8.9 %         
0.50 kg               Vienna Malt (3.5 SRM)                   8.9 %         
0.50 kg               White Wheat Malt (2.4 SRM)              8.9 %         
0.50 kg               Acid Malt (3.0 SRM)                     8.8 %         

Hops:

10 g               Mosaic [12.25 %] - Boil 10min      
10 g               Vic Secret [15.50 %] - Boil 10min   
20 g               Mosaic  [12.25 %] - Steep/Whirlpool 15min 
20 g               Vic Secret [15.50 %] - Steep/Whirlpool 15min   
28 g               Mosaic  [12.25 %] - Dry Hop Day 7       
28 g               Vic Secret [15.50 %] - Dry Hop Day 7
42 g               Mosaic [12.25%] - Dry Hop - Day 15
21 g               Vic Secret [15.5%] - Dry Hop - Day 15

Extras:

1.00             Whirlfloc Tablet Boil 10 mins
2.00 tsp         Yeast Nutrient Boil 10 mins

Yeast:

WLP 648 Brettanomyces Brux Trois Vrai 
US-05

Brewed with my son, mashed in with 15L of strike water to hit mash temperature of 149F. Mashed out with 8L of 206F water, and finally batch sparged with 4 gallons of 170F water. Wort temperature brought up to 180F for 15 minutes, then chilled to 120F, Pitched Lacto starter, added 1L seltzer water, covered with saran wrap, and placed lid on the kettle. Kettle was put on stove top. Temperature was kept between 90-120F for a week. Ph stable at 4.2 from day 3 through day 7. 120ml Lactic acid (88%) added, wort ph reduced to 3.5. Moved kettle to burner and proceeded with 60 minute boil, chilled to 62F, split batch, and pitched Brett starter.

Now you would think with all the trouble I had getting a starter, and wort ph to drop, that I would have been in the clear at this point. But oh no, this finicky beer was not done with me yet.

One week after pitching Brett, gravity was stable at 1.018. First dry hop charge added. The next day an active starter of US-05 added, one week later gravity down to 1.012, and second dry hop charge was added. Four days later gravity was down to 1.010, beer transferred to CO2 purged keg. Force carbed at 35psi for 48 hours, then reduced to serving pressure.

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Appearance: Pours with a white head, half finger that fades to a thin ring very quickly. Pale, golden yellow in color, and moderately hazy.

Aroma: Sourness seems to stun the aroma initially, then lemon, grapefruit, and pineapple come through, light to moderate in intensity. Very slightly dank as well.

Taste: Light to moderate sourness is front and center, which is followed my a moderate hop presence. Pineapple, meyer lemon, followed by lighter notes of mango, papaya, orange, and lime.

Mouthfeel: Light-medium carbonation, acidic, finishing dry.

Overall: I like this, I just don’t love it. I’m enjoying it now that it’s had a few weeks to settle in, but initially it had a near offensive chemical or metallic note that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I assumed at the time it was due to using so much lactic acid to sour, instead of taking the natural route. But, it has faded, I’d say almost entirely. I think the Mosaic and Vic Secret work well together, definitely a combination I’ll be using again, I’d love to see how those would work with a strain like London Ale III.

I doubt I’ll be using Brett Brux Trois Vrai again any time soon, you’ll notice in my tasting notes I didn’t mention anything regarding flavors typical of Brett strains. That’s because it has absolutely no Brett character, at least none that I can pick up on. Not to mention it stalled fairly high for a moderate gravity wort, though had I done more reading ahead of time I would have known to ferment this strain at a higher temperature. White Labs recommends 70-85F, and I never let this beer get above 72F.

The worst part of the process to brew this type of beer was that I had so much trouble, yet I still have no idea why that is. I followed every guide, recommendation, etc that I could find with no little to no success. I would like to brew kettle sours on a fairly regular basis, but there’s little I could do differently next time. There is a Lacto blend from Omega that I’d love to try, though it’s difficult for me to get my hands on. Until then I am going to try another starter, this time using RO water. I brought up the issue of water chemistry with Derek Springer, Mike Tonsmeire, and a friend, and they all can’t see a reason for my particular water profile to deter the growth of Lacto. But, just to be safe, and rule out every possibility, I’ll give it a shot.

 

Coming Up: How to ruin an IPA with one simple ingredient choice. I’m on a roll!

 

 

 

 

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